It was reported this week that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu was sentenced to 18 months of probation after pleading guilty to reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and drunken driving going back to an incident way back in the Fall of 2012. If you missed it the first time, here’s a rundown of the events.
By comparison, back in January former Steelers’ running back Chris Rainey was arrested and charged with misdemeanor simple battery. This was then plead down to a lower misdemeanor of disorderly conduct. The charges stemmed from a report from one of Rainey’s neighbors that he had slapped his girlfriend. A charge he denies, the girlfriend denies, and other witnesses deny. Rainey’s girlfriend, who he is still with, had asked for all charges to be dropped.
So basically we are looking at two situations where young men made bad decisions. Rainey’s bad decision was to get into an argument with his girlfriend in a spot where a neighbor, who some have speculated had an ax to grind with Rainey, could see. Ta’amu’s bad decision was to get behind the wheel of a 6,000 pound vehicle while drunk and drive through a populated area crashing into multiple cars.
There is a disconnect here for me. I in no way condone violence toward women, but I have yet to track down a single bit of proof other than the word of a vengeful neighbor that any took place. I also condemn drunk driving. And I do have a fair amount of proof that this did take place in Ta’amu’s instance. For me personally, I have to ask myself are these instances really so different that it cost Rainey his job, but not Ta’amu?
I think at least some of this is motivated by need. The Steelers are in a position going into the 2013 season where they need a defensive tackle. By contrast, the need isn’t there for another running back. If you don’t think teams don’t make personnel decisions like this, then just put your head back in the sand. Defensive tackle Casey Hampton is likely to retire, and that only leaves one tackle on the roster other than Ta’amu to fill that role. Rainey was likely a role player again this season, at a minimum of third on the depth chart.
I think there’s another reason these two situations went down the way they did. Public perception. Not only of the incidents, but of the players as well. I have heard more and more arguments defending the idea of drunk driving as being okay, because, and I am paraphrasing, “we’ve all done it”. I have never done it, and I never would. Why? Because I’m smarter than to put others at risk like that. The notion that because many people exercise such poor judgment it makes Ta’amu’s actions more excusable is asinine. But as a society we view domestic violence, even when it’s unproven, as somehow more heinous. People fill in the blanks themselves and that’s dangerous. I am sure I’m in the minority here, but I’m a pragmatic guy, and so I say what I feel.
As for perception of the players, it’s been a stark contrast. Rainey has been unabashed and apologized for nothing. Ta’amu, on the other hand, has apologized profusely and displayed tremendous public contrition. As a public we want people we believe did wrong to apologize, even if they didn’t do it. Rainey has instead maintained his innocence, and to the public that makes him look somehow more guilty than Ta’amu. More hokum I say.
I understand that the can of worms I am about to open up is going to be big. But I’m a big boy and I can handle it. Don’t forget your opinion is yours and mine is mine. We don’t have to agree, and it’s okay if we don’t. I am not being sanctimonious or self-serving in this. What both of these young men did was wrong, and for a franchise with so much pinned to public perception, I believe they didn’t handle either of these two situations with the level of equality they deserved. We as a society are broken when we can defend a drunk driver who clearly endangered the lives of others, but we vilify another who did “something” with his girlfriend, but no one is sure what it is.